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Food rations reach truce areas in Damascus

About 6,650 food rations in three Damascus areas were distributed where the Syrian rival sides reached ceasefire

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About 6,650 food rations in three areas of Damascus where rebels and the army reached a truce were distributed by Syria’s Red Crescent on Monday, Agence France-Presse reported.

These areas, however, are still under partial blockade.

The distributions have taken place over the past four days in Beit Sahem, Babbila and Yalda, three rebel bastions where the two sides reached a ceasefire after more than a year and a half of fighting and daily shelling.

The Red Crescent said it also provided medical treatment to 460 residents during the operation, while another 1,700 sick people were able to leave.

The Red Crescent posted photographs on its Facebook page showing scores of men and women gathering at a table, waiting to sign up for the distributions with humanitarian volunteers.

The photographs also show elderly men, teenagers and children looking happy as they carry away boxes marked with the Red Crescent’s logo.

The aid mission was carried out with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Food Program (WFP).

Some 5,450 families benefited from the distribution, out of a total 12,000 families that have signed up for assistance.

Truces reached in recent weeks for several rebel-held areas around Damascus -- where people were reportedly dying from shortages -- have allowed the entry of food, sources on both sides have said.

But according to activists and human rights organizations, the siege on the rebel-held areas has not ended.

In Moadamiyet al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, activists have denounced restrictions imposed by the army ever since a truce was agreed in late December.

Air raids kill 18

Meanwhile, air raids on rebel-held towns in central Syria killed 18 people on Monday, activists said, two days after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding an end to indiscriminate shelling and aerial attacks.

The U.N. Security Council adopted the resolution calling for humanitarian aid convoys to be allowed access throughout the war-torn country, but without a threat of sanctions should the parties fail to comply.

Damascus said Sunday it is ready to cooperate with the resolution, so long as it respects “state sovereignty.”

Syria’s almost three-year-old conflict has raged on despite peace talks that began in Geneva last month and the passage of the U.N. resolution, a rare moment of unity between the West and Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest backer.

Women, children among the dead

Two women and two children were among the dead in government air raids on the town of al-Neshabieh, in the eastern outskirts of Damascus, near a railway marking the frontline between Islamist fighters and Assad’s forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants, and in the province of Homs to the north.

“Two simultaneous raids hit Neshabieh first. People were pulling the bodies of a women and her two children from one house when the planes came back and hit the crowed, killing another nine,” activist Abu Sakr told Reuters from the area.

He said artillery fire from a battalion based at Damascus airport and the nearby town of Mleiha then hit the town. Fifty people were wounded in the combined bombardment, he said.

Battles in Aleppo

In Aleppo, Syrian troops battled rebels Monday over a strategic district that could be key to securing a nearby prison and laying siege to the city’s rebel-held east, AFP reported.

The Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, said troops had advanced in the Sheikh Najjar district of Syria’s second city and onetime economic hub.

“The army has achieved new progress in Sheikh Najjar industrial city... during its military operation to cleanse the vicinity of the Aleppo central prison and lift the siege on it,” the newspaper said.

The prison has been attacked multiple times by rebels hoping to free the approximately 3,500 detainees inside, who are reportedly being held in dire conditions.

In early February rebels launched a major assault on the facility, beginning with a suicide car bombing at its main entrance.

(With AFP and Reuters)